The unexpected explosion of the now iconic battle royale game PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds (more commonly known as PUBG) has changed the industry forever. The co-op horde builder Fortnite by Epic Games, that wasn’t quite making the splash the developers expected, turned its fortune around when they added a battle royale mode, beating PUBG itself to the punch on consoles. Since then we’ve had Call Of Duty tackle two battle royale modes (three, counting the one in Call Of Duty Mobile), Battlefield had one, Apex Legends (a Titanfall battle royale spin-off) has taken the world by storm, and the list goes on. Many developers tried to ride the storm, but it’s 2020, various years into the genre’s explosion, so the place is inevitably crowded. Too much, perhaps.
One notable absence from the battle royale crazy has been Ubisoft: a developer with so many open world games that would work out so well with a battle royale mode has not entered the arena for the longest time. This finally changed recently, but not in a way most players expected: it’s not a Tom Clancy BR or an Assassin’s Creed spin-off, it’s not tied to Watch_Dogs or Far Cry, and it has little resemblance to any of these games. Hyper Scape is a brand new free-to-play first person “digital sci-fi” take on the genre, one that changes the game’s rules drastically. Can the changes be enough to make this late entry to the genre a resounding success? Is the gameplay strong enough to sway people away from Call Of Duty’s Warzone or Apex Legends? Let’s find out.
Tank, load the jump program
Unlike most of the popular battle royale games out there, Hyper Scape drops any pretense of a credible in-game world by choosing to make this battle royale experience all part of a digital world, one where many rules can be turned over, hacked. In the standard game modes, one hundred solo players or 33 teams of 3 drop from four corners into a futuristic French city, with architecture that really can’t be mixed for any other country’s. If the play area looks oddly familiar, there’s a reason for that: much of the design and geometry has been readapted by developer Ubisoft Montreal from the controversial Assassin’s Creed: Unity, a game that was criticized for its glitches and performance mainly, but one capable of delivering yet another brilliant and vibrant historic location: 1700’s France. Several buildings, temples and rooftops are a clear indication of Hyper Scape’s map’s past, but there’s more than enough changes to make it feel a fresh experience. For the interiors, similarly, various cues have been taken by another Ubisoft hit, multiplayer tactical shooter Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege.
“Got it buddy, Hyper Scape is a quick and dirty battle royale, with tons of recycled assets and not much effort at all.” If you thought something along those lines, you could not be farther from truth, as Ubisoft Montreal’s new multiplayer game is one of the most original and innovative battle royale titles so far. As Hyper Scape is played inside a digital simulation, players need to quickly forget how gravity and physics in general work. Every character acts the same, there’s no classes or pre-made abilities to choose before entering the arena, but perks like these exist. They’re called hacks, and each player can keep two in their loadout at any given time, finding them inside buildings, in crates and in other points of interest, as is standard for the genre. These are effectively the class abilities we’re looking for, and they change the mobility of the game drastically. Giant vaults allowing the player to fly over entire blocks of buildings, teleportation, invisibility, invulnerability, or even turning into a Metroid-like protected ball to bounce away from the action in an instant. Even more so than weapons, it’s these abilities that decide who lives and who dies, as the healthpools aren’t large and there’s no armors, though at least HP regenerates after a while, albeit slowly. Most weapons don’t need more than a bunch of bullets to eliminate an enemy, and since positioning matters far less with so many mobility options, it’s all about adapting at what is essentially a battle royale version of a high speed arena shooter from the good old days, like Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena. Except for the fact it’s arguably even faster in some ways.
Guns. Lots of guns.
Some of these abilities can be used to damage the enemies. One of my favourites is the mine, a homing trap that can turn enemies crazy in a desperate attempt to get out of its way. Naturally, however, most of the digital murder is done through actual weaponry. Without resorting to brands and known names, we get the variety that’s expected from a futuristic shooter. A homing pistol, a regular Magnum-style heavy pistol, an SMG, a shotgun, an assault rifle or two, a heavy machine gun with an astonishing bullet capacity, a sniper rifle, a rocket launcher and even a plasma gun. Like the rest of the game, they share this futuristic digital look, with crisp metal shapes and colours evoking cyberpunk sensations: expect a lot of green, orange, yellow and much neon in general. Even the buildings don’t offer doors and windows like in most battle royales, but light-breaking orange plates that, once broken, allow access in without any chance of restoring them. A common strategy in PUBG is to close doors to lure unsuspecting players to a house that seems unlooted from the outside. No such tactic to be done here.
From the hacks to the weapons, every item has 5 levels of rarity. It’s possible to find them of the highest rank in the most busy locations and in crates, but players tendentially power up by fusing items. Find two identical SMGs of level 1? Burn one into the another with a single button, and an instant later you find yourself with a level 2 weapon, with improvements generally to the magazine capacity, with sometimes the damage and precision . Fusing items is not just useful for improving the loadout, but it will also reload the weapon at hand or reset the cooldown for a hack, allowing a quick comeback into action even on abilities that have a longer wait. No attachments, no visual gear to clutter the ground, every item is largely noticeable as they appear in bright colours, and all ammo is compatible with every single weapon. Pick-ups are therefore extremely straight-forward and perfectly readable in any situation. You can even ping items to your teammates like in Apex Legends, and similarly to EA’s title you can use this trick to identify weapons that are just too far to be recognized, as a handy icon will pop up to show the exact location, the distance, and most importantly the type of the armament. On console, there’s a bit of aim assist to help matters, but given the verticality of the battles with people flying left and right, your aim needs to be on point to have the slightest chance of killing somebody. Skill ceiling is definitely higher than most battle royale shooters.
This is the Construct
Like The Matrix, which I am continuing to quote in my headers, Hyper Scape is an imperfect simulation. Not just because of the crazy abilities players earn in the arena, but the entire playable arena’s city (a beautiful French urban jungle) is made to be destroyed. Forget the typical battle royale circles. As the match goes on, entire segments of the map are fragmented in front of player’s eyes, with buildings and statues becoming nothing but a blurry black mess to traverse once destroyed, as players caught outside take damage. After a while, these eliminated areas turn into vast nothingness, reducing the visual clutter around the final areas. The ending of each match is, likewise, a slight alteration on the formula we learned to love from the genre. It’s no longer necessary to kill all other teams (though it remains a viable strategy), as a crown appears in the final phase of the match. If a player manages to hold it for 45 seconds, that’s a win right there for them and eventually the team. This tendentially avoids stalls in the final confrontation, but with the game’s incredible mobility it turns the last battle into a game of cat and mouse that is not very compatible with the spirit of battle royale in my opinion. As seen first in Apex Legends, revives are also a thing, perhaps in the most active form we’ve seen yet. Every eliminated player starts roaming the area as a ghost, only visible to the teammates. This player can not interact with anything, but they can ping out locations for enemies and items as they please. The ghosts can be resurrected at the death spot of anyone from a different team, encouraging people to push towards locations that have seen battles as opposed to running away to a far away location like it often happens in Apex Legends. The revival phase takes a few seconds, but once completed the newly entered player can play immediately, spawning from that exact location again. Time to pick up a weapon or two and it is game time again.
Of course, all these changes push Hyper Scape closer to a traditional arena shooter rather than a tense and tactical battle royale. Most buildings are a couple storeys high, with multiple abilities allowing players to vault on top of them anytime. Further abilities like invisibility and temporary invulnerability allow for escape routes anytime, so trapping players throughout positioning, a key factor in most battle royale games, is simply not present here. This heavily reduces the need to know the exact conformation of the map, and it also practically takes away the need to have distant snipers, healers and other roles: teams have to stick together, move a lot, attack as a whole. Anything else usually results in failure. This incredible mobility often makes battles an eternal struggle, as just before death someone can move several buildings away without being noticed, just in time for the automatic healing to kick in after a few seconds of hurt. All these twists and turns on the battle royale formula are, ironically, probably the reason this game is currently failing to generate the online buzz a Ubisoft battle royale could. At the end of the day, it’s like playing a high-adrenaline arena shooter, and those coming in for a tactical battle royale may not get what they need. Gameplay variety is at least guaranteed by the limited time events that rotate like in other battle royale shooters, like a team-based mode where 4 teams of 20-25 players duke it out coming in from the 4 corners of the map, or a solo mode where the hacks and weapons are randomly changed every minute or so. But more than a question arises as to why such a game formula needed to be a battle royale.
Residual self image
To nobody’s surprise, Hyper Scape shakes up much of the gameplay but the monetization remains the same. There’s the usual rotation of day-in, day-out weapon skins and character models to buy at fairly high prices using in-game credits. These can also be used buy a battle pass unlocking a huge variety of other items, a pass that gives back far more than the 950 credits requires to jump in. It’s definitely one of the fastest and least invasive passes, as between daily and weekly challenges the levels breeze by real quick. Even better is how Twitch is integrated. It initially sounded a bit of a tryhard way to push streamer integration, but it is actually a lot of fun. Watching streamers can net you 2 levels on your pass daily in the form of XP. Viewers can even vote for random events to happen in the match the streamer is playing in: low gravity, health pick-ups everywhere, a reveal event which shows every player’s location, and so on. A bit random, but a good way to have your audience engaged and to make the actual matches more varied. Everything unlocked is kept between platforms thanks to cross-progression, so a skin bought on Xbox One will be readily available on PC or PS4 alike, if you wish to juggle between versions or migrate to a different ecosystem. Crossplay, however, is currently unavailable.
Ubisoft’s Hyper Scape is certainly a tough nut to crack. At its core, it has many of the elements that make battle royale one of the most popular genre of our days, but the extreme mobility both makes the game more unique and less tactical. The visual style is pleasant, but also rather close to many sci-fi settings we’ve seen throughout the years. The free-to-play model, the cross-progression and the Twitch integration should mean this title is blowing the Internet apart, but it really isn’t, because Hyper Scape is a weird experience. It wants to be an arena shooter with identical characters, but it also wants to have abilities. It uses the battle royale rules, but it takes out most of what makes the genre so beloved. It also comes to the market at a time where nearly everyone who’s interested in the genre has several games to play, is invested in a game’s ecosystem and is hardly looking for a new alternative. These are the reasons why Hyper Scape is struggling to find online buzz, not because it’s a bad game. It’s a high-octane, exciting and peculiar online shooter, but perhaps it’s not what players want right now. Ubisoft Montreal can certainly keep the game interesting by evolving the formula, and we certainly are curious to see where the game is going from here.